The regulation of novel water quality assessment biotechnologies: Is Canada ready to ride the next wave?

Microbial assessment of drinking and recreational water is a key tenet of public and environmental health risk management. Since it is both impractical and impossible to test for all possible microbiological pathogens (microorganism that cause disease), water quality assessment instead tests for the presence of indicator microorganisms which serve as proxies for the presence of contamination. This type of microbial water quality assessment relies on slow culture-based microbial methods rather than newer, more rapid molecular techniques, such as the nucleic acid amplification tests (“NAAT”). NAAT have been applied with great success in other contexts (e.g. clinical diagnostics and forensics); application of NAAT to water quality monitoring have the potential to precipitate a paradigm shift to a new water quality assessment approach characterized by speed and accuracy. However, to date, NAAT-based methods are not part of routine water quality monitoring in Canada. An important aspect of an efficient transition from research to routine use will be the adaptation of legal and regulatory frameworks to facilitate the integration and accessibility of NAAT-based methods as practical tools for all stakeholders. This article explores how new microbiological methods to assess drinking water quality are developed, validated and introduced into testing laboratories, and considers potential avenues for regulatory reform in Canada. In this perspective, a comparative legal analysis of current regulatory frameworks in Canada’s three most populous provinces — British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec — and the more centralized approach used in the United States was conducted.

This content has been updated on January, 15 2016 at 16 h 55 min.